Top 10 selected

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, January 17, 2012

AHOSKIE – If any of the 10 new businesses targeted to invest in the Ahoskie market do choose to come, chances are very high they will be restaurants.

Last Thursday, a packed house at the old Ahoskie High School Band Room debated a list of 21 possible new businesses. The group was charged with trimming that list to 10 as required by The Buxton Group, a Texas-based company that spent the better part of last year conducting broad based marketing research to attract new retail stores and restaurants to the Ahoskie “drive time” market.

As chosen by those at Thursday’s meeting, restaurants dominate the top 10, to include Hardees, Huddle House, Shoney’s, Applebees, Sonic Drive In, Western Sizzlin Steakhouse, Zaxby’s and Denny’s.

The remaining top 10 choices were Peebles Department Store and Tractor Supply Company.

Ballots containing the top 21 choices, a final list expanded by five (Applebees, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s and Ruby Tuesday’s, as based on the wishes of local community members, and Buxton’s contention that the Ahoskie market could support a second McDonald’s), were placed at each seat. It was decided at the outset of Thursday night’s meeting to delete the ones that the majority felt were not suitable for the Ahoskie market based on strong businesses already in place within that line of retail offerings. After much debate that process eliminated Auto Zone, Badcock Home Furnishing Center, Bi-Lo, Inc. (a supermarket chain), Curves, CVS Pharmacy, Merle Norman Cosmetics, Papa’s Pizza to Go, True Value Hardware and the second McDonald’s.

Based on what Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond deemed as “shots in the dark,” the group decided not to go after Cracker Barrel and Ruby Tuesday’s.

“Based on our contract with Buxton, we can only submit (their marketing research) packages to 10 of those on this list,” Hammond said. “There are some on this list that make absolutely no sense to our market area.”

His first example of a “no sense” selection was CVS Pharmacy. Hammond said the pharmacies already in operation locally plus the fact that Walgreens has plans to locate in Ahoskie gives local shoppers an abundance of drug stores to choose from.

That same thought pattern applied to Bi-Lo. Hammond said with Food Lion, Lowe’s, Piggly Wiggly and Ahoskie Food Center already entrenched here plus the new Wal Mart Supercenter planned for Ahoskie, having another grocery store such as Bi-Lo seemed a far-fetched idea.

“The majority of what we’re looking for is restaurants,” Hammond noted. “That’s the key thing for our market. We’re already strong in auto supply stores, furniture stores, pizza places, pharmacies and grocery stores. I don’t want to see us waste one of our 10 letters on these types of businesses that are already strong in our market.”

There was much discussion over making Curves a part of the top 10. Curves, a fitness center for women, was once located in Ahoskie, but closed. One person in Thursday night’s audience said the Ahoskie Curves had 200 members, but closed due to one manager attempting to oversee three locations in northeastern North Carolina.

It was decided at the end of the meeting for Ahoskie officials to personally mail a letter to Curves in an effort to have the business reopen here.

Ahoskie Mayor Brien Lassiter inquired about the possibility of landing a new hotel/motel in town.

“That’s a study separate from what Buxton performed,” Hammond replied. “I’ve been in contact with a Rocky Mount firm that handles such properties and have delivered a proposal we generated in an effort to attract a new hotel or motel here. There’s a couple of steps that proposal has to go through and it made it through the first step and is now being looked at by their financing guy to see if it’s economically feasible.”

Based on the general discussion heard at last week’s meeting, “family type” restaurants were the popular choice, particularly a reasonably priced steak house and other “sit down” eateries that offered a good, quick meal and/or were friendly to businesses wanting to conduct luncheon meetings with clients.

The group also looked at businesses that would employ more than a handful of workers as well as opposed to those that may result in the closure of existing businesses offering the same type of service.

There were also remarks about using the Small Business Center at Roanoke-Chowan Community College as a source to help train “hospitality” employees to help them in landing restaurant jobs should those new businesses locate here.

The top 10 list generated at Thursday’s meeting will be mailed to Buxton.

“I’m thinking it will take them at least 15 days to get all the packages together to mail out to those 10 businesses,” Hammond said.

The Buxton Group launched its study in March. Their methodology in performing its research of the Ahoskie/Hertford County retail trade/restaurant area was to first identify who those customers are, where they live and what is their value to the local market. After developing the trade area, Buxton used data gained through over 350 consumer information sources to match the best retailers to fit that area.

The Hertford County Board of Commissioners, Town of Ahoskie, Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce, the Mid-East Commission and the Northeast Commission joined together to pay Buxton $25,000 to perform the marketing study and put the town in direct contact with the top 10 businesses identified at Thursday’s meeting.

Outside the realm of the Buxton study, Hammond said Abrams Barbecue, based in Tarboro with other restaurants in Pinetops and Scotland Neck, is currently engaged in negotiations to purchase the old Popeyes property on West Memorial Drive.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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